Preschool Spanish program to open in fall

Championing the words of the ancient French king Charlemagne — “to have another language is to possess a second soul” — an East Bay Spanish immersion preschool program is opening a new branch in Berkeley.

Kids Into Speaking Spanish is set to finalize arrangements to transfer ownership of a West Berkeley property formerly owned by another preschool program called The Snuggery Thursday, bringing the program’s total East Bay locations up to three. The program is set to open by Sept. 19.

The program is designed to offer 2-to-6-year-olds the opportunity to learn Spanish language and culture through activity-based curriculum taught almost entirely in Spanish. In addition to strict academic and professional requirements, each of the program’s instructors must be a native Spanish speaker.

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, executive director of the Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement Inc., said authenticity is key to maintaining a successful immersion program.

“Parents have intentionally sent their children (to immersion programs) to be exposed to Spanish in a natural environment,” she said. “The flavor of the programs, from the food that we eat to the celebrations we have, are infused with natural culture.”

The program was founded in 2000 after owner Chris Clark found a multicultural language program for his own children based on French-Canadian preschool programs. The program — one of the first total-immersion preschool programs in the East Bay — began in Clark’s own Orinda, Calif., home, where two children with “brave parents” and two of his own children received Spanish lessons taught by a native-speaking instructor.

“Education has always been very important to me,” he said. “Kids are so much more open to new experiences and ideas (when immersed), and it’s an enrichment that lasts a child through its entire lifetime.”

Since then, Clark has founded programs in Walnut Creek and Oakland’s Montclair district. The whole program now teaches roughly 110 students, according to Clark.

Former Berkeley PTA Executive Vice President Mark van Krieken — a native Dutch speaker and father of two — said he believes bilingual programs help children become more open-minded and receptive to cultures other than their own.

“I’ve got nieces and nephews … in a bilingual program, and it’s amazing what they’re coming away with,” he said.

Clark purchased the West Berkeley building — which was part of a family trust — that formerly housed The Snuggery after learning that the owner of the building passed away last year. Upon finding out that the family wanted to sell the building, the owner of The Snuggery — who ran the preschool for about 30 years — decided to retire.

Clark bought the building with the help of an investor, and final arrangements will be made Thursday. He estimates that a new program will be able to accommodate about 26 students but hopes that future construction will allow more children to attend.